By Naomi Klouda
Sustainable farming methods in Iceland may offer a few ideas for the movement that has brought Homer recognition for its own efforts.
The opposite might also be true for Maria Valle, an agricultural farm manager from Iceland who is volunteering on a Homer farm. The public is invited to hear her talk, “An Icelandic Farm: Producing Food in an Organic Sustainable Way” at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at the United Methodist Church.
Maria Valle works as a WOOFer at Lindianne Sarno’s farm. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms uses the acronym in a program that links volunteers with organic growers.
When growing enthusiasts discovered the End of the Road community had drawn an Icelandic farming manager, they organized a public speaking engagement.
“To have a person of her experience and knowledge in Homer is a really special opportunity,” Sarno said.
In her talk, Valle will show photographs and discuss her work at the 700-acre farm, called “Mother Earth,” that she manages in Egilsstadir, a small town of 2,000 people.
Around the country, which has a population of 325,671, the 36 organic farmers work from a cooperative arrangement to avoid unnecessary product duplication, she said. From the soil to the grocery shelves, each farm focuses on different end products.
“Before an economic collapse in 2008, Iceland didn’t produce as much as it does now,” Valle said. “It imported a lot of goods. Now they try to consume more local meat, dairy – everything they can from local.”
The ability to produce local food becomes key in such times, Valle said. At Mother Earth Farm, planting begins in greenhouses in April — much like Homer’s use of high tunnels.
Large tracks of barley are the main focus at this large farm, which concentrates on mass quantities, she said. In the fall, another phase of production begins as the work focuses on processing food.
“We grow barley, for example, as our main crop,” Valle said. “For the rest of the year, we are making bread, pancake mix, all kinds of products from the barley.”
The farm also makes canola oil, and everything it needs to feed its workers in a self-sustaining way.
“The only thing I buy is sugar,” Valle said.
Instead of corporations owning the large tracts of farmland, families continue to own and operate them. Valle said the farms’ customers are city restaurants and grocery stores.
As for what Valle wants to learn in Homer, it is part of a summer of research that began in Bellingham, Wash. in early June, at an Oregon farm in July and now Sarno’s farm in Homer. Valle has a master’s degree in organic agricultural farming. She is originally from Seville, Spain, and has lived abroad the past 12 years.
In one of her sojourns, she worked several seasons aboard the Japanese “Peace Boat,” which travels on an environmental human rights mission. Prior to moving to Iceland, she was caught in the Japanese tsunami’s chaos.
“After the tsunami hit, everything was so chaotic,” she said. “I took my bike and went to Iceland, because I had wanted to go there.”
The entire landscape was fascinating to Valle for a number of reasons. “Farming in Iceland is holistic. It is also about taking care of the landscape,” she said. “You grow the food, and because it is a treeless place, there is a forestation effort” to promote biodiversity.
A kind of birch tree similar in apparence to alder is the only native tree.
“There are some similarities between Alaska and Iceland; the weather is similar, and our growing season runs June to September,” she explained. “But the landscape isn’t similar. We have more wind, longer rough winters and no trees.”
Valle is hoping to learn plenty from her Homer hosts. Sarno operates a little homestead she calls a “farmlet,” that concentrates on potatoes, vegetables and chickens.
Sarno said Valle has been a joy to host for the many ways they can learn from one another.
“There’s always a learning exchange between the host and WOOFers,” she said.
For now, Valle said she’s observing the short season by staying busy with not only farming projects, but also is interested in harvesting from the sea.
“I’m still discovering the area, but would like to see more in order to have a better idea of what’s going on here with organic production,” she said
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